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U.S. Congress headless after a first-in-history ouster of House Speaker

The United States Congress will be headless until further notice, having decapitated its own leadership Tuesday in an unprecedented event in U.S. history. Kevin McCarthy's removal as House Speaker is the culmination of years of toxic partisanship and opens a period of uncertainty, with wide-ranging potential implications. Including for Ukraine.

Kevin McCarthy's removal opens period of uncertainty, with potential implications from the U.S. to Ukraine

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy.

The United States Congress will remain headless until further notice, having decapitated its own leadership Tuesday in an unprecedented event in U.S. history.

The first-ever ouster of a sitting Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives likely means days of domestic disarray, and uncertainty abroad for U.S. allies, notably Ukraine.

The chamber now faces an urgent task to which all other issues will take a backseat, from passing a budget to funding Ukraine: that task is appointing a new leader for the body.

This is after Kevin McCarthy was turfed by eight members of his own party in a 216-210 ouster vote, where they sided with 208 Democrats.

This sets off an unpredictable scramble: After holding the job for just 269 days, McCarthy announced he will not run again when the chamber reconvenes to pick a new Speaker, probably next week.

A potential sign of the looming disorder came as two Republican lawmakers, one McCarthy defender and one critic, debated outside a party meeting in full view of news cameras.

"I don't know who'd want the job [now]," said Wisconsin Republican Derrick Van Orden, the McCarthy defender, suggesting the party is becoming ungovernable.

Democrats signal willingness to negotiate

As Republicans spewed venom at each other, Democrats watched in silence.

Members of the opposition party sat crossing their arms, smiling, refusing to either participate in the debate or to lift a finger in McCarthy's defence.

The historic debacle punctuated a years-long battle between what some view as the Republican party's governing wing versus its cable-television self-promotional wing.

"It's disgusting," shouted one McCarthy defender, Republican Garret Graves of Louisiana, waving his phone, showing how his party's malcontents were raising money off their revolt.

WATCH | Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy voted out:

McCarthy ousted as U.S. House Speaker

8 hours ago

Duration 1:29

The U.S. House of Representatives ousted Kevin McCarthy as Speaker on Tuesday in a historic vote that involved heated words from both McCarthy supporters and detractors. The Republican was removed by eight members of his own party, who sided with 208 Democrats in a 216-210 vote.

"My phone keeps sending text messages. Saying, 'Hey, give me money!' Oh, look at that. 'Give me money — I've filed a motion to vacate." "It's disgusting. It's what's disgusting about Washington."

What lies ahead is anyone's guess. The end result could land the U.S. Congress in different spots on the political spectrum as members navigate this uncharted moment.

The wide range of potential outcomes spans from a harder-right replacement of McCarthy, to a moderate compromise where a Republican governs with help from some Democrats.

Late Tuesday, Democrats signalled a willingness to negotiate.

To do that, the parties have to overcome festering bitterness. Republicans were so livid at the Democrats' failure to save McCarthy — accusing former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of betraying a past promise to do so — that they immediately kicked her out of an office she still holds at the Capitol.

'The Russians are happy'

In a sign of the potential international implications, President Joe Biden called world leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reassure them that U.S. support for Ukraine will continue.

The U.S. is by far the biggest military backer for Kyiv, but without a new spending bill, current funds are believed to be enough to last, at most, several months.

One frustrated Republican cast the ouster as a geopolitical blow to the United States, and as a win for unfriendly countries that thrive on U.S. chaos.

"Today was a bad day. The Chinese are happy, the Russians are happy, the Iranians are happy. Americans should be mad as hell that these eight people did this to our country," said Republican Don Bacon.

Ukraine funding was part of the stated rationale for the ouster, which was launched by the flamethrowing Floridian Matt Gaetz, with the support of some hard-right commentators like Steve Bannon.

McCarthy had expressed support for more funding.

But the broader charge against McCarthy was less ideological than personal. Gaetz said McCarthy promises everything to everybody, from the White House to Republicans, then breaks those promises.

Meanwhile, many Republicans muttered unprintable things about Gaetz. He readily admits to being detested by many of his colleagues; they scoff that he's doing this to boost his own political profile.

Dark haired man in dark suit and yellow tie speaks surrounded by reporters

'This institution will fail'

"This institution will fail," said Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a staunch conservative who backed McCarthy, warning that the body could become ungovernable.

It's worth noting that Massie is usually one of his party's most notorious rebels and a persistent thorn in the side of past Republican leaders.

That history is relevant because it's impossible to assess the events of the last few days without looking back at the trajectory of the last few years.

It tells a story of a system cracking and of political institutions increasingly paralyzed by partisanship, starting with the Republican Party.

Consider this sequence of history-making, precedent-shattering events.

In 2020, we witnessed an effort — the longest since 1876 — by a defeated presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to undo an election result.

In 2021, there was the unprecedented spectacle of Jan. 6, the attack on the U.S. Capitol, an effort to stop the certification of the election.

In 2022, after the midterm elections, Republicans won the House of Representatives but couldn't agree on a leader. What followed was the longest fight to name a Speaker since 1855. That's when McCarthy finally gained the post after 15 rounds.

Making history, not in a good way

In 2023, McCarthy became the first Speaker stripped of power, ever. In fact, he was the first Speaker to even face a removal vote since 1910.

The last time a Republican Speaker faced an ouster vote it was a decades-long veteran of the institution, Joseph Cannon. He represented the party's traditional pro-business wing, and faced a rebellion from members of his party's ascendant populist wing.

"The real truth is that there is no coherent Republican majority in the House of Representatives," Cannon told the chamber.

But he won the subsequent vote. An office building next to the Capitol is now named after him.

These days, Republican leaders are less durable.

In 2018, Paul Ryan cut short a once-bright political career after a brief stint as Speaker. Before him, John Boehner resigned in 2015, amid a rebellion from his own side.

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Boehner's memoirs are dripping with disdain for these lawmakers, people he says have no interest in achieving practical goals; his book refers to "knuckleheads," "lunatics" and "crazies." People he said block everything and claim it's out of principle, but are in reality attention-seeking phonies.

"Most of these guys weren't about principles. They were about chaos and power," Boehner wrote. "Don't get me wrong — the Democrats are far from guilt free in all of this."

In the end, Democrats decided not to spare any votes to save McCarthy, who infuriated them by reneging on a previous budget deal, and by launching an impeachment hearing into Biden.

That helped Gaetz win his showdown.

He insists he wants policy changes: deeper budget cuts to attack the soaring, $33 trillion US national debt, and to end Ukraine funding.

What Gaetz is reportedly interested in: moving back to Florida and winning the Republican nomination to become the next governor.

He's now more famous than ever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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